PHOENIX -- Part of the emphasis this spring for A's reliever Sean Doolittle, the subject of today's print story, is tweaking the breaking ball he threw last season from a curveball into more of a slider. Doolittle, the converted first baseman, rose rapidly from A-ball to the majors in his first season pitching professionally while relying heavily on his fastball. It's a mid-90s pitch that Doolittle moves around the strike zone well. But for a guy who hadn't pitched competitively since college, it was also simply the pitch Doolittle had the most confidence in throwing.
According to the analytics website FanGraphs, Doolittle threw the fastball on 86.8 percent of his pitches in 2012, while mixing in the curveball (9 percent) and a changeup (4.2 percent). Pitching coach Curt Young said that while the changeup was "effective," the curve "wasn't as effective as he wanted." Fiddling with the breaking ball, though, Doolittle said, "wasn't something I really felt like I was equipped to learn on the fly" last season, especially with the A's in the middle of a division race.
Still, Doolittle said the tweak itself has been pretty minor.
"I just kind of tried to re-define what I was doing with it," Doolittle said. "Last year I felt like more times than not I was trying to start the slider out of the zone and have it break back in. Now I've pretty much just changed where I aim, aiming down the middle, and it's just allowed me to get more out in front and more on top of it.
"Doing that you have more arm speed and because you have more arm speed, it's tighter and a little bit later (breaking). It wasn't like a big change. It was more of a mental thing, redefining what I was trying to do with the pitch."
Doolittle said the goal is to draw more swing-throughs with the pitch this season. He felt like the release point started to click for him a couple weeks ago, "and I feel pretty good about it." That doesn't necessarily mean that he'll go away from the fastball, he stressed. Just that he may be more confident going to the breaking ball this season if the situation calls for it.
-- Matt Kawahara